Read THE RIDDLE OF RAMSEY HALLS Online

Authors: Pippa Hart

Tags: #horror, #suspense, #mystery, #spirits, #gothic, #mother, #victorian, #ghost, #english aristocracy, #english regal

THE RIDDLE OF RAMSEY HALLS

CHAPTER 1

The light was
bouncing off his head. I could see it from where I was standing on
the top floor of the house. He was mad and his bald skin was
turning pink. As per usual he was shouting at him, yelling at the
top of his lungs that he had been insolent and broken something. It
was the usual rigmarole.

But when I
looked to Adam, his blue eyes wide and staring, he didn’t look
scared once. Rather he seemed resigned to his fate of being the bad
boy of the house. When his father was finished shouting, the little
boy walked up the steps, his little feet patting against the
mahogany. It was a long way up to where I was standing and he
pouted all the way.

“Why are you
always hiding up here?” he asked as he reached the top, his little
lungs wheezing as he spoke.

“Because I hate
your father as much as you do,”

“Hmmm….” the
little boy nodded with his wise eyes staring down over the
bannister. “Won’t you suppose you’ll ever come downstairs?”

“I don’t think
so,” was all I said and I followed his gaze.

Adam’s father,
the corpulent Sir Thomas Collins was ordering his servants about.
So far he had reduced one to tears and made the others scurry
away.

“Don’t you want
to run away from here?” I placed a hand on the little boy’s
back.

“More than
anything,”

“Why don’t you
then?”

“Because where
can I go? I’m too young to work or even buy a train ticket,” he
sighed and slumped to the floor.

“And when is
your birthday?”

“May
19
th
. I’ll be six then,”

“Ah…. Still
rather too young,” I frowned.

There was a
long pause between us as we listened to the frantic voices
downstairs. Sir Collins was a wretched beast who never treated his
family with the love they deserved, but he treated the staff in the
house worse. There were rumours of course, dreadful ones of things
he did after dark. But little Adam didn’t speak of them, not
yet.

“If you join me
you could be free from this house you know?” I nudged him in the
ribs.

“No thank you,”
was his terse reply. “I want to be a doctor when I grow up, or a
surgeon. I can’t do that if I die,”

“But you’ll be
young forever,” I tried to reason. “Wouldn’t that be such a
wonderful thing?”

The little boy
shrugged and looked into space.

“I’ve been sent
to bed without supper again,” he looked up at me, his bottom lip on
the brink pf quivering.

“I’ll see what
I can do,” and I stepped back into the shadows.

From a distance
I could see him wander back down the stairs. His little head was
bobbing up and down as he walked, his blonde hair flopping back and
forth. I knew the boy had great things destined for him, but I
couldn’t help but want him for myself. He could be my son and I his
mother. We’d walk through the halls hand in hand with smiles on our
faces. We could dance in the ballroom with laughter never having to
end, and we could love each other until the end of time with no
such thing as aging to tear us apart.

CHAPTER 2

“There’s no
such person as Mildred,” Sir Collins dismissed his wife’s words as
he pushed a piece of steak into his mouth.

“But Adam says
there is,”

“That boy has
an overactive imagination. He needs to get out of this house more,
needs some fresh air that’s all,”

“But with the
flu pandemic….” Lady Collins bowed her head over her plate. “I just
don’t want him to get sick like…..,”

From where he
was sitting, her husband may have thought she was fiddling with her
napkin. What he didn’t know was that out of sight she had fished
her hand into the secret pocket of her dress. Pulling out the
golden keepsake, she flipped open the locket and looked at the wisp
of hair that was hidden within.

“Mathilda….”
she whispered into her lap.

“What was
that?” her husband didn’t look up from his plate.

“Nothing at
all,” she snapped it closed and put it back in its place. “I’ll
speak to him tomorrow,”

~

The sun,
although a rare sight in these parts of the country, had dipped
into the ground hours ago. Adam had been in bed for what seemed
like an eternity but he was still wide awake, his eyes fixed on the
high ceiling. It was nights like this when he tried to count all
the flowers on the cornicing, but as always he had lost count
before reaching twenty.

He pulled the
covers over his head and looked into the darkness. Sometimes he
imagined a whole world resided in there. Creatures of no known
species would mine for fairstone, a pink gem that was priceless in
the human world. Or goblins that were half cat, half reptile would
roam in the blackness looking for innocent people to prey upon.

His father was
right in that he had a rogue imagination but it wasn’t his fault.
Adam’s grandfather was the explorer Sir Lionel Collins, and he
often came back from the tropics with outlandish tales of adventure
and conquest. Someday he’d like to grow up and be just like his
grandfather. He’d travel the world and see that people were
protected from diseases. That way no one could die like his big
sister had.

Of course he
never met Mathilda. He was born after she passed away. But he’d
often heard a faraway giggle in a corner of the attic, the one
where his father’s moth collection lay. Once he’d seen a flicker of
blonde hair as it blew around a closing door, like a flame blowing
in the wind. But then it was gone and when he went to investigate,
he found himself staring into an empty hallway.

Footsteps
sounded somewhere in the hall and Adam popped his head out the
covers. He thought for a moment they belonged to his mother with
their lightness, but then he heard the knock. Only one person in
this house did that.

“Come in
Mildred,”

“Hello my
little kitten,” I held out a tray to him. “I managed to pilfer you
some cheese, bread and an apple,”

He sat bolt
upright, snatching the cheese first and then the bread.

“Thank you,” he
sang, his cheeks growing chubby and stuffed as he spoke.

“Slow down my
little one,” I laughed as I rested on the end of the bed. “Or
you’ll get a tummy ache,”

But he ignored
me and continued to chomp away. After a few minutes he rubbed at
his stomach, his little hand running in a circle.

“Have you had
enough now?”

He nodded.

“Will you help
me find the crumbs though?” he looked up to me. “Mother’s always
finding the crumbs,”

“Very well,”
and I proceeded to dust down the covers with my hand.

But something
caught my attention. It was the boy’s sudden furtive movements as
he remembered something. He hurried to crouch into the corner at
the top of his bed.

“What is
troubling you my darling?” I reached out a hand he refused to
take.

He had a look
on his face as though some tremendous and terrifying thought had
swept over him.

“How do I know
you didn’t put anything in the food?”

“Oh my
sweetheart….” I began to say before he interrupted.


How do I
know?”
he started to become tearful. “The last time you put
something in the pudding I was poorly for days and mother blamed me
for climbing in the apothecary cabinet,”

“I did no such
thing,” I looked away ashamed. “Not this time anyway,”

My lies were
obvious, my cheeks growing crimson despite the fact there was no
blood in me. Adam’s eyes were wide in terror and I wanted to grab
hold of him, tell him everything would be ok.

“You keep
saying you love me,” his teeth were chattering. “But then you hurt
me and I don’t understand,” the tears were flowing now.

I wanted to
wipe them away with the end of my apron but the laws of God
wouldn’t permit it. If I were to touch him he wouldn’t feel a
thing.

“I only want
what’s best for you,” I fiddled with my skirt. “Someday you’ll
understand,”

“I don’t think
I will,” his voice was weak as it echoed through the room.

Meandering back
out the door I blew him a kiss as I left.

“Sleep
well,”

But he was
already hiding under the covers once again.

“Sleep
forever,”

CHAPTER 3

The rooms of
Ramsey Halls were always cold at night, not that I would have
noticed. Somehow though, I rather missed the freezing temperatures,
for even being uncomfortable meant that you were alive. It didn’t
matter whether it was warm or not but rather more important to feel
it.

It was the
endless and vast expanse of nothingness that was the most difficult
to bear; to look at food and feel no hunger, to stay awake for ever
but never grow tired or to hear a joke and not find it amusing. The
only thing I felt was sadness, a deep melancholy that only
motherhood could soothe.

But my chances
of that were now gone, obliterated on the day my life ended. It
seemed so long ago now, but not long ago enough. The stairs made no
noise as I descended them, but if you were to pass me by you would
feel a cold breeze, like frigid breath tickling at the side of your
face.

I’d heard
mutterings before, pieces of overheard conversation where people
mentioned feeling my presence. They’d often run to one another as
though I was attacking them. Their hands would be shaking, their
skin pale as they spoke of the mysterious gust of air in the attic
or the feeling of being watched. I was often an anecdote at
dinner.

“Oh, have you
heard the spirit in the attic was knocking on the floor once
again?”

And they’d all
laugh and shriek with goose bumps rising up their arms. Once or
twice they even tried to communicate with me via some silly board.
But I was angered by their frivolous entertainment and I flew the
glass and board off the table, shattering it to pieces in the
fireplace. Yet that only served to make me more of an interest to
them.

It infuriated
me and so now I tried to keep as quiet as possible. I showed myself
to no one but the little boy and only came at night. And so on this
night I made my way down into the great hall and out into the
darkness.

The stars were
shining bright with the clouds having departed long before. It
would have been a clear and chilled night was I to feel it, but I
gazed at the beauty of the sky nonetheless. It was a short walk to
my destination, one I’d travelled many times.

With my boots
treading in the rocky mud I travelled fast, my eyes having adjusted
to the dark. When my feet reached the end of the lane and my hands
lay upon the stone wall, I reached up on tip toes to see
further.

“Are you
there?” I whispered into the wind.

“Why must you
ask yet again?” the voice was gruff and old with a distinct
grumpiness.

I creaked open
the gate, the noise travelling across the moor.

“You’re late
tonight,” the figure coughed and stepped out from behind the shadow
of a mausoleum.

“I had to care
for the boy,” I explained.

“Care? I
surmise you were trying to kill him once again,” he spat.

“I have my
reasons you know,” I tried to protest my innocence.

“Well…. I want
no part in knowing anymore,” and the old man shuffled off.

I watched him
as his shape merged with the shadows of the gravestones, his
cumbersome frame weighing heavy in the earth.

As I did every
night I walked the half a mile across the marsh to the local
graveyard. The one where I lay or at least my body did. It is also
where my grandfather rests, or rather climbs out the ground every
night to meet me.

He was now at
the far end of the yard, his grey hair like icy tendrils in the
wind.

“Hurry up
Mildred,” he gestured for me to walk faster to our usual place.

Once I arrived
I saw my seat was already made up. It was the upturned stone of
Ephraim Wilkins, a long dead theatre director who had perished,
like so many, under the influence of the coughing disease. I saw my
dear grandpa had laid out the usual velvet cushion for me that I
loved so much.

“Why must you
sit on that thing? You can’t even feel the cold of the stone?” he’d
ask with bitterness in his voice.

“It’s
sentimental,” was all I’d say.

And it was, for
it belonged to my dear mother, a lady I had lost so long ago. I
watched as my grandpa reached into his raggedy blazer and pulled
out the pack of cards we’d been playing with since as long as I
could remember. Who knew how old they were, but one thing for sure
was that they were always rigged in his favour. Not that I cared, I
just found his company to be a much appreciated experience no
matter how much he grumbled.

“I’ve been
hearing things,”

“Oh…. Just
ignore the Jones’,” I pointed my thumb to the grand tomb of the
Jones family that sat near to our graves.

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